NBA star Ja Morant describes punching teen during a pickup basketball game last year

Dec 11, 2023, 7:22 PM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — NBA star Ja Morant testified in court Monday that a teenager hit him in the face with a one-handed basketball pass at close range during a pickup game last year and that the Memphis Grizzlies guard punched the teen once in the face.

Morant said on the stand that the teen bumped him in the chest, balled his fists and got into a fighting stance. The lawsuit was filed by Joshua Holloway, who was 17 when the brief fight erupted at a basketball game on a court located at the Memphis-area home of the NBA All-Star’s parents on July 26, 2022.

Holloway, now 18, accuses Morant and his close friend Davonte Pack of assault, reckless endangerment, abuse or neglect, and infliction of emotional distress. Morant, 24, has said that he and Pack each punched Holloway once, and that Pack’s blow sent Holloway to the ground.

Morant claims he was acting in self-defense after Holloway threw the ball at him and hit him in the chin during a check-ball situation. A “check” is a common practice in pickup games in which two opposing players pass the ball to each other and check to see if their teammates are ready, often before starting a game or after a foul.

The NBA player’s lawyers argue that Morant is immune from liability under Tennessee’s “stand your ground” law, which allows people who feel threatened at their homes to act with force in certain situations. The law is used in criminal cases, but Judge Carol Chumney’s ruling last month cleared the way for Morant’s lawyers to apply it in the civil case and attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed.

No criminal charges have been filed against Morant. Pack was charged with misdemeanor assault in July, but that charge has since been dropped.

The NBA suspended Morant for the first 25 games this season after a video of him flashing a handgun was posted online. The video shows Morant sitting in the passenger seat of a car and was posted after he finished serving an eight-game suspension in March for another video in which he displayed a handgun in a Denver-area strip club.

Morant apologized for both videos.

During Monday’s hearing, Morant’s father, Tee Morant, testified that the family has for years invited young local basketball players and friends of Ja Morant to play on their full-sized home court. Morant’s parents cook a meal for the players after the pickup games.

Holloway had been invited to play several times and had built a friendly relationship with the Morants. Ja Morant testified that the teen behaved well and showed respect to him and his family during his previous visits.

On the day of the fight, Holloway had been guarding Morant, who was dominating on offense and repeatedly led his team to victory during highly competitive games played throughout the day. Tee Morant testified that he was urging Holloway to play tough and “go at Ja,” but that Holloway appeared frustrated and began “bickering back and forth” with Ja Morant.

During Morant’s testimony, he reenacted the altercation with both his lawyer, Keenan Carter, and Holloway’s lawyer, Rebecca Adelman. Both lawyers used basketballs they brought to the courtroom.

Ja Morant said he and Holloway were facing each other in a check-ball situation to start a game. Morant testified that Holloway placed the ball on the ground in front of Ja Morant to start the check, rather than giving Morant a chest or bounce pass, which is customary.

Morant said he took that as a sign of disrespect and rolled the ball back to Holloway. The teen then rolled the ball back to Morant, who picked it up and threw a chest pass back to Holloway, Morant said.

That’s when Holloway quickly threw a hard, one-handed pass with his right arm that hit Morant on the left side of his chin. Morant said he had his hands down and was surprised by the forceful pass, which hurt.

After he was hit in the face, Morant asked Holloway “What you on?” a phrase that Morant said meant: “What did you do that for?”

Holloway said nothing and did not apologize, Morant testified. The two then walked towards each other and stood chest-to-chest before Holloway shoulder-bumped Morant, pulled up his shorts by the waist and balled his fists, which Morant interpreted as a fighting stance.

“I thought he was about to hit me, so I swung first,” Morant said.

After Morant’s punch landed on Holloway’s face, Pack then punched Holloway once in the head, knocking the teen to the ground, Morant said. Holloway was escorted from the court by former NBA player Mike Miller.

Adelman and Morant replayed the check ball situation, with Adelman firing the ball back at Morant, who caught it. At Adelman’s request, Morant then outstretched his arm to show how he punched Holloway, his fist just inches from the lawyer’s face.

“You could have pushed Joshua,” Adelman said. “You could have talked to him, you could have mentored him, you could have said, ‘Hey man, this isn’t what we do here, leave my property.’”

Adelman then asked, “Were these options for you?”

“Yes,” Morant said.

Later in her cross-examination, Adelman asked Morant if he was afraid that Holloway was going to hurt him.

“Yes,” he said.

The hearing continues Tuesday.

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NBA star Ja Morant describes punching teen during a pickup basketball game last year